It’s remarkable that Cease to Exist, well, exists. For the early half of the decade, Baltimore death metal/grindcore outfit Noisem had been on a seemingly unstoppable ascent, announcing back in 2016 that they had signed with Relapse after the release of two rock-solid and critically acclaimed sets of high-intensity metal butchery. Then a year later, the bottom dropped out. In 2017, vocalist Tyler Carnes, bassist Yago Ventura and guitarist Travis Stone all left the band after tensions being at their highest among members. With three-fifths of the band gone, Relapse dropped the band before they even got around to releasing any music. That very well could have been it—with just brothers Sebastian and Harley Phillips left, Noisem might have stopped then and there, after two albums and a pretty spectacular burnout.
Noisem didn’t stop playing, however. The brothers Phillips enlisted Ben Aft—a former bandmate of theirs in their prior group Necropsy—to join as bassist and vocalist, and emerged on the other side of a near-collapse with the 20 Buck Spin-released Cease to Exist, a direct, 23-minute injection of thrash, death and grind that sticks to the no-bullshit traditions of the old school. Yet the trio showcases stop-on-a-dime precision, punchy production and a relentless intensity that gives them an edge among some of the more straightforward traditionalists. Without the second guitarist, Noisem are a bit leaner, the hyper-speed tremolo picking of Sebastian Phillips doing most of the heavy lifting. The occasional solo in a song like the relatively epic “Downer Hound” (at 2:30) reveals that the difference between a marathon and a sprint, an anthem and a bruiser are each defined by razor thin margins in Noisem’s world, but they make the most of every second here.
Given the setbacks that led up to this point, however, Noisem’s actual music hasn’t suffered in the slightest. They’re still delivering bursts of manic deathgrind (“Constricted Cognition”), blistering crossover thrash (“Putrid Decadence”), and heavy-on-groove death metal rippers (“So Below”). Cease to Exist is something of a re-introduction, a restatement of purpose and a fresh start. It’s also, most importantly, a statement of endurance and growth. The Phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes story might be a cliche at this point, but when it results in a metal album this satisfying, it’s worth dusting off one more time.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.